Astrophysics, News, Space

The most exotic material on the planet: researchers find dust from beyond the solar system

An optical microscope image of a track through aerogel made by Orion, one of the dust particles believed to be from interstellar space. Photograph: D Frank/Nasa/JSC

Researchers believe they have found seven dust specs from outside the solar system. This is the first time we have the chance to directly analyze interstellar matter. The material was probably ejected from a supernova….

Astrophysics, Geology, News

Still hot inside the Moon? Earth gravity creating a hot layer

Credit: Image courtesy of National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

Scientists have indirectly demonstrated the existence of a hot layer surrounding the Moon’s core, through seismic and deformation studies. This layer is created by the gravity exerted by the Earth on the Moon and can provide valuable information regarding the evolution of the Earth-Moon system….

Astrophysics, News, Physics, Space flight

NASA confirms “Impossible” propellant-free microwave thruster works


Designs for a device called a “microwave thruster” were proposed in 2006. While the device was physically sound and followed the principles of relativity, it has been dismissed by researchers who claimed that such a functioning device would defy the law of conservation of momentum. A team from NASA set out to trial the device and see if it works; lo and behold – it did! Several years ago British scientist Roger Shawyer presented his EmDrive microwave thruster as an alternative to powering spacecrafts without propellant. Instead, it uses microwaves bouncing off a carefully tuned set of reflectors to achieve small amounts of force and therefore achieve propellant free thrust. Initially, the…

Astronomy, Astrophysics, News, Space

ESA’s billion-star surveyor, Gaia, ready to begin its science mission

Artistic representation of the ESA.

Gaia is an unmanned space observatory of the European Space Agency (ESA) which aims to catalog approximately 1 billion astronomical objects (mostly stars), about 1% of the Milky Way population. Gaia will provide a trove of valuable and spectacular data, including a precise three-dimensional map of astronomical objects throughout the Milky Way and map their motions. We were telling you in January that Gaia was already in orbit, in a stable point at about 1.5 million km from Earth. Now, Gaia is finally read to start working on its mission, observing each of its billion stars an average of 70 times each over five years. Furthermore, Gaia will also measure…

Astrophysics, News

Mercury iron might be the result of cosmic collision


The Earth contains a lot of iron, but it is not alone in the solar system in that aspect. Venus, Mars, the Moon and asteroids such as Vesta all have iron in their structure, but Mercury is the champion in that aspect: about 70 percent of its mass is iron! Now, researchers believe they have found why Mercury is so rich in this metal – the planet is the result of a cosmic ‘hit and run’. The main proposed reason for the lunar iron is that the Moon was formed as a result of a giant impact with proto-Earth – but that can’t account for the much vaster Mercurian iron….

Astrophysics, News

Newfound Planet ‘Gliese 832c’ May Be Able To Support Life

The habitable zone

A newfound alien planet located “just” 16 light years away from Earth might be able to support life, a new study has shown. To get some perspective, the Milky Way is approximately 100,000 light-years across. The closest planet to our solar system is Proxima Centauri – 4.2 light-years away. A recent study concluded that there are likely billions of Earth-like planets in the Milky Way, but few of them are this close to us. Gliese 832c is a “super-Earth” – a rocky planet just like the one we live on, and but 5 times more massive. It lies much closer to its star than Earth from the Sun – it takes it…

Astronomy, Astrophysics

When Galaxies Collide: Triple Black Hole System Discovered


Two decades ago, astronomers started to find evidence that almost all galaxies have a supermassive black hole at their center. However, the discovery of a trio of black holes circling the center of a distant galaxy, reported by astronomers on Wednesday indicates that duos and trios of black holes are much more common than previously thought. “We were quite surprised to find it,” says Roger Deane, of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, lead author of the report. It’s believed that multiple black hole systems occur when galaxies merge together – the gravitational attraction of the galaxies makes them merge together, and what you end up is three black…

Astrophysics, Observations

Light from huge explosion 12 billion years ago reaches Earth


Intense light from a huge explosion (a gamma ray burst) that took place shortly after the birth of the Universe (12 billion years ago) has reached Earth, and was observed by researchers. Gamma Ray bursts are the strongest explosions since the Big Bang – in just 10 seconds, they release more energy than our sun in its entire life time; read this a few times, and let it sink in. So far, they have only been observed in distant galaxies, because, well, if they would take place in nearby galaxies, let’s just say there wouldn’t be much around to observe them. Because of the immense distance of most gamma-ray burst sources from…

Astrophysics, News

The first Thorne-Zytkow object, a bizarre type of hybrid star, discovered by astronomers


Physicist Kip Thorne and astronomer Anna Zytkow proposed a new theoretical class of stars back in 1975, but it was only very recently that such an example of hybrid star was identified in the universe. The Thorne-Zytkow Objects (TZOs) are a combination between red supergiant and neutron stars, superficially looking like normal red supergiants, like Betelgeuse in the Orion constellation. The main difference consists in the chemical signatures resulting from particular activity in their stellar interiors. The formation of the TZOs is believed to happen when the two massive type of stars interact – the red supergiant and the neutron star shaped during the explosion of a supernova – in…

Astronomy, Astrophysics, News

Oldest known potentially habitable exoplanet discovered just 13 lightyears away


An international team of astronomers reported the discovery of two new planets orbiting a very old and nearby star to the Sun named Kapteyn’s star; one of the planets, Kapteyn b, is potentially habitable – it has the right size, and is at the right distance from its start to host liquid water. What makes it even more interesting is that at just 13 light years away from Earth, it is the oldest potentially habitable exoplanet found so far. It’s an exciting time to be an astronomer! It’s like every couple of days there’s an exciting exoplanet discovered, each more spectacular, similar to Earth, or potentially habitable - especially thanks to the Kepler…